They are two of the sport’s icons, the beautiful three-week laps around Spain and Italy.
The 1914 Giro d’Italia had four stages longer than 400 kilometers and riders began at midnight the night before the stage was to end. The modern-day Vuelta still looks like slow-motion death on a bicycle; its heritage equal parts heat and elevation.
Outside of the Tour de France, these are the stage-race apples of a GC man’s eye.
And they may be on the chopping block.
Little is concrete — publicly, at least — about the restructuring of the road calendar under the new vanguard at the UCI and cycling’s major stakeholders. Reforms are expected to be announced this winter, possibly effective by 2017. Some, such as Omega Pharma-Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere, have called for a shortening of the two grand tours.
“Indeed, sometimes you see the best riders avoiding racing against each other, that is regrettable,” Lefevere said to Het Nieuwsblad. “But as the grand tours now are organized, it is not physically feasible for them to race all three … Whoever races them all has 66 days of racing over about 120 days. The solution is to shorten the Vuelta and the Giro to 17 days, or in my opinion, 15 days.”
Champions of the Vuelta and Giro must balk at such a notion. But what of UCI President Brian Cookson? In an interview with VeloNews, he wouldn’t say, exactly.
“We did a review of pro cycling and tried to come up with a solution that works as well as it can and for as many of the diverse interests as it possibly can,” Cookson said. “I think we’re at the stage now where there are too many race days at the top level, there are too many too long events, too many overlaps…”
When asked directly if he could say if either grand tour would be shortened, Cookson wasn’t specific. “I think that there would be some flexibility, but I’m not going to say that I’d want them to be shorter,” he said.
Cookson said he and others are working past an automatic “defense mechanism” that kicks in when it comes to individual events, and that the heritage of the events themselves is being considered when it comes to debating their lengths.
“Everyone says, ‘I’m right and I’m not going to change my position.’ So there is a defensive mechanism that kicks in and we’re still working beyond that issue, but I think that by the WorldTour conference in December that we’ll have a revised and reviewed format,” Cookson said. “Most of what has been leaked is outdated information. We’ve got good working relationships with the teams, but there are always divergent views.”
What about the men who have to race those three-week odysseys, through the heat, rain and, sometimes, snow? Well, there are divergent views there as well.
“I think there is room to tweak, ways to make the race more appealing. Pro cycling is amateurish still. [There] needs to be some reforms,” said BMC Racing’s Peter Stetina. “I think there is room for improvement. There are so many races all over the world — the Giro has such bad weather. The Dolomites should never be raced in May.”
Stetina said October usually sees the best weather for racing, and suggested a Giro in June, the Tour in August and the Vuelta in October. “We wouldn’t have to start training until Christmas time, instead of Thanksgiving,” Stetina said.
Nicolas Roche, who rode for Tinkoff-Saxo last season and will suit up for Sky next year, said the tours shouldn’t be curtailed.
“I disagree with shortening the grand tours, like if you did Paris-Roubaix at 120km, it takes the edge off the race,” he told VeloNews. Roche said he likes the idea of evolution and adaptation of the schedule, but that the big three stage races should remain.
“I’d prefer the idea that these three races are special … keep them as three weeks, two to five days longer than the others … on the sporting side, I don’t see the point to try to shorten them. Particularly in a grand tour, there is something crazy that happens in the third week.”
There is a tide at present for an invigoration, of some sort. Cookson and his crew are addressing the calendar. Team executives like Lefevere are calling for changes. At one point, Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov offered up an outright purse for the best-placed man among the sport’s GC riders of reference to ride all three grand tours. It’s the off-season, but that doesn’t mean it’s a quiet season in pro cycling.
“We’re making progress and I know that the media loves to make a big deal of these things, calling them disasters or whatever when things don’t get approved or sorted out right away,” Cookson said. “But it’s not really like that. There are a lot of stakeholders and points of view, so the best solutions come from talking those things through, rather than banging the table.”